Not About Writing

Top 10 Film Costumes

Recently, I posted some images of some costumes from Crimson Peak to Facebook. My followers seemed to like them and, well, I certainly liked them, and you know I’m always looking for an excuse to share costume porn here, so I decided to do my own Top 10 costumes from film.

Here are the rules:

  1. Only one costume per film allowed.
  2. I had to be able to find good quality images of the costume (which ruled out The Artist and Wings of the Dove).
  3. It had to be from a film I enjoyed and would recommend (which sadly ruled out Marie Antoinette, Batman Returns, and the Duchess. It nearly ruled out Titanic but I decided to be lenient).

Here we go then:

10. The Marquise de Merteuil’s Travelling dress, Dangerous Liaisons (1988), costume designer: James Acheson. Genres: Psychological drama; literary adaptation.

This gown has stuck with me over the years despite not actually being on screen that long. It’s a triumphant moment for Glenn Close’s Merteuil as her plans begin falling into place, a powerful gown for a character at the height of her own power.

Honestly, though, all the costumes in this film are amazing and gorgeous. All of them.

9. Claire Fraser’s wedding dress in Outlander (season 1), costume designer: Terry Dresbach. Genre: Time travel; romance; epic; literary adaptation.

Another 18th century style dress. Not only is the gown stunning (my god, the embroidery!) but it symbolizes so much to the characters; Jamie’s hopes for their marriage, the seriousness of Claire’s situation (Jamie’s all in, so it’s going to be hard to go through with deserting him), as well as fulfilling the wishes and dreams of everyone who read the book and had waited years to see this moment on screen. It’s a lot for a dress to measure up to, yet this one does.

8. Romeo and Juliet (1998), costume designer: Kym Barrett. Genres: Shakespeare adaptation.

Almost every teenage girl in the ’90s seemed to be obsessed with this film, myself included. I was already a literature geek, so of course I was going to love this. Even though I suspect this dress owes a lot to Claire Danes’s ethereal beauty, it has a magic that still works on me more than twenty years later. (20 years? Seriously? The ’90s was just the other day!)

7. Satine’s trapeze costume, Moulin Rouge, costume designer: Catherine Martin. Genres: Musical.

Another Baz Luhrman film. There are several gowns I could have chosen but it’s this one that sticks with me. This is the first glimpse we get of Nicole Kidman’s Satine and she manages to do Diamonds are a Girls’s Best Friend with enough style and attitude that I don’t immediately wish I were watching Marilyn Monroe instead (which is a huge achievement in and of itself). It’s just an amazing, versatile, fun and glitzy costume.

6. Rose’s boarding gown, Titanic, costume designer: Deborah Lynn Scott. Genres: Drama.

Say what you like about Titanic (this film is a guilty pleasure for me), the costumes were amazing. I almost chose the red dress she wears when she tries to throw herself overboard. I’ve got to be honest, my choice here is 75% about the hat. That being said, the boarding outfit, inspired largely by a contemporary source gown (see slideshow), is so crisp and smart. It’s an outfit for the woman Rose is trying so hard to become.

5. Edith’s black bow dress, Crimson Peak, costume designer: Kate Hawley. Genres: Gothic horror.

This is the gown that inspired this post. I fully intend to watch Crimson Peak again soon just for the costumes, which are all amazing. I love how everything Edith wears in New York, all beautiful, up to date (for the 1890s) gowns, contrasts with Jessica Chastain’s dresses which, while equally beautiful, all look 10-20 years behind the fashion. Edith dresses like a strong, confident New Woman, but the bow somehow renders her vulnerable. Like a hand might reach out from the dark, take hold of all that fabric, and never let go.

4. Sarah’s ballgown, Labyrinth. Costume designer: Ellis Flyte. Genres: Family film; Musical.

What is that dress made of? It has a definite cellophane-ish quality, yet I love it. Perhaps it’s because I saw this film when I was small. Perhaps it’s because I still love that song they dance to. Perhaps it’s the peak 80s-ness of it all. I don’t even know.

3. Danielle’s ballgown, Ever After, costume designer: Jenny Beavan. Genres: Fairy-tale retelling.

This was a perfect moment. So much so that I’m afraid to re-watch this film as a proper adult in case it doesn’t stand up. The dress, though, will always hold up.

2. Ellen Olenska’s red gown, The Age of Innocence. Costume designer: Gabriella Pescucci. Genres: Pychological drama; literary adaptation.

This is a case of the perfect dress for the scene. Madame Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) is different from every other character. As wonderful as she is, she doesn’t fit in, and this dress underscores that fact beautifully. Unbeknownst to her, she’s moving around in hostile territory where it might be smarter to pass unnoticed. Of course the fact that she floats around in her crimson gown completely oblivious to this hostility, is why we love her.

1.Anna’s ballgown, The King and I, costume designer: Irene Sharaff. Genres: Musical, literary adaptation.

This dress is largely responsible for beginning my Victorian obsession. It is directly responsible for little Julia insisting her first ever bridesmaid dress have a hoop skirt. It also led to compulsive use of the silver crayon when it was coloring-in time at my primary school. Despite the film’s problems, I still get chills when Anna dances with the king. I love the way the dress looks like liquid as she moves.

There you go; my top 10. I hope you’ll let me know your favorite costumes from film in the comments here, or on Facebook or Instagram.

Not About Writing

Sunflower Wars, a brief memoir

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a 6 yr old boy came home from school with a small potful of dirt and this:


So his mother (that would be me) placed the pot upon a windowsill and watered the contents each day. A shoot appeared, and when the tiny plant grew large enough to need support, the mother stuck a drinking straw into the earth and tied the stem with string. Whenever she was writing outdoors, she took the pot with her, basking her fragile charge in sunlight.

Time passed and the mother taped another straw to the first. The sunflower continued to grow but it did not flower. Eventually, the drinking straws were discarded in favor of a bamboo stick. The mother did not name the sunflower but she nurtured it, and when she wrote, it was her only companion.

The day came when it was time to take the sunflower back to school to be judged. The boy was excited but his mother was anxious. What if all the other sunflowers had bloomed? What if they were much taller? What if the boy or indeed the sunflower felt diminished by the forthcoming judgement?

On the way to school, they met another mother. “Oh my goodness, that’s amazing,” she said. “Ours never grew. We watered it for weeks and nothing happened, so we emptied the pot out and we couldn’t even find a seed.”

The mother sympathized but inwardly she rejoiced.

The entire way to school, they didn’t see anyone else carrying a plant. It was the same story in the playground. A woman there saw the sunflower and her eyes widened. “Did you do that?”

The mother preened. “Yes, I did. It’s my only gardening success.”

“Ours never grew. We watered it for weeks and nothing. In the end, we tipped the pot out and we couldn’t even find a seed.”

“Someone else said the same thing. I’m worried that all the others will have flowered.”

The woman looked at the boy. “You’ve won.”

The boy smiled, but to be honest, he wasn’t particularly interested.

The classroom door opened. The mother handed the plant (her precious!) to the teacher and managed to resist the impulse to instruct her on its care. As the boy disappeared into class, a dad appeared from nowhere with a carrier bag containing two sunflowers of a size comparable to the mother’s (for she no longer thought of the plant as belonging solely to the boy). Somehow she restrained herself from rugby tackling the dad by reminding herself that this wasn’t Thunderdome.

Then she beheld a monstrosity: A woman carrying a large flowerpot. Needless to say, it was not the one issued with the seed. Inside, was a short and incredibly stocky plant with a massive yellow flower blooming at its apex. Her kid was clearly facing some skepticism from his peers because even as the mother clocked this travesty, he cried out, “I didn’t buy it!”

Bullshit! the mother thought. That’s bullshit, kid. I don’t care how old you are, you’re lying your arse off.

The stem on that thing was several inches thick. It wasn’t even the same variety of sunflower. Of course, the mother didn’t say any of this out loud because that would be petty and mean. Also, swearing in the playground is frowned upon.

It’s just a bit of fun for the children, she told herself, because she knew she had to rise above such unspeakable chicanery.

She walked home and told this story to her husband who was working from home that day, and he found her outrage cute instead of exhausting, which was lucky.

When the mother picked the boy up from school that afternoon, the sunflower looked tired and bruised, like it had endured a tough day. She took it home and, after she’d re-potted it, they sat together in the sun while she read the latest Victoria Stone. The boy received a certificate:


You’re goddamn right we did.